Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
He must increase, but I must decrease.
-John the Baptist, speaking of Jesus, John 3:30
Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.
Turn to the light.
My daily routine involves an early morning walk, time for quiet, orientation to the day, and some prayer. It’s a privilege that part of that daily walk can take place on the beach, thanking God as the sun rises again, thanking God for the gift of another day. As it’s gotten colder, the number of people on the beach is reduced. A couple weeks ago I was walking on the beach and I saw only one other person. A tall young man in a wetsuit with a surfboard emerged from the dunes and headed across the wide beach to the ocean.
Our paths came close to intersection as he reached the shore. I was close enough to see that he put down his surfboard. He leaned over and picked up a couple pieces of trash on his pathway on the beach. He stood up and looked around. He saw that a good couple hundred yards away there was a trash can. He left his board and walked all that way to deposit the trash. I thought of how easy it would have been to leave the trash where it was. It wasn’t a lot. I realized that I too often have just passed by litter (literally and figuratively). It has caused me to begin to carry a plastic bag in my pocket on these morning walks, ready to pick up any trash I see. I began to shift the way I behaved because of what I saw this young man do. He was a witness to me.
(I should say that my wife, who is more spiritually evolved than I am, has been picking up trash on our beach walks forever. We have teased her for it. Funny how we sometimes we don’t let those people closest to us to be our teachers. That’s probably a topic for another column. Sorry, honey.)
This beach encounter, perhaps another Advent parable, made me think about witness. This young man didn’t notice that I noticed. We spoke no words. I doubt he was thinking: “I’ve got to convince this guy to pick up trash.” Chances are slim that he’s a subscriber to Monday Matters, able to read this story. He just was doing what he thought was right, just doing good, for no reason except goodness. There was no one except me around to pat him on the back.
In case you haven’t noticed, in our world these days, there is ample opportunity to do good. St. Francis said we should preach the gospel at all times and use words if necessary. That doesn’t get us off the hook from speaking of our faith, being able to explain why it is in fact good news. But it does recognize that the ways we live in the world, the ways we treat each other, the ways we treat God’s creation, speak volumes. The ways we live in the world have the potential to bring change.
On Sundays in Advent, we’ve been hearing about John the Baptist. His whole life and ministry was a matter of witness, pointing beyond himself to Christ, to love breaking into the world. He obviously didn’t care what people thought of him. He was all about pointing to the light. We heard yesterday in church that John was not the light but came to bear witness to the light. And we read about him because in all of his eccentricity (and he gives new meaning to the word “eccentric”), he models what it means to be a witness.
Goodness surrounds us. Where do you see it? Are you noticing, watching, expecting, staying alert to it, even if it’s just a faint glimmer, a small effort? That’s sort of the deal with Advent. Who are the people that have been a witness to you, showing you how to live in the world? How have you been changed by their witness? Think of a moment when you saw someone do good. Maybe thank that person for the moment. At least, thank God for that person. Then consider opportunities before you to be a witness on this day, December 14. Someone might just notice. Or not. But ask the Holy One to place before you this day that chance to do good.
Advent calls us to watch, to be alert. For Jesus’ sake, how can you be on the lookout for goodness?